The 100-Year Computer

One way to think about Urbit: as a "100-year computer."

May 13, 2019

Galen Wolfe-Pauly


Around the Tlon office, we’re always looking for more concise ways to describe what we do. We kicked around ‘personal server’ for a long time. It’s pretty close. ‘Personal cloud computer’ did okay for a while, but it’s a little confusing.

One way to think about Urbit is as a 100-year computer.

A 100-year computer has to be durable, reliable and permanent. It has to never lose data or fail in unpredictable ways. It has to be continuous, meaning it should never need to be updated by the user. If I put it in a closet for 10 years and take it out, it should work again without any intervention.

And, perhaps most importantly, it should be easy and enjoyable to use. Both for a casual user and for a technical person. If it’s not enjoyable to use, and doesn’t actually get used, it’s never going to survive for 100 years.

In theory we could all be using Apple I’s today, but they’re a bit cumbersome. In large part that’s because they don’t update themselves. Those magnetic tapes don’t strike me as particularly durable either.

Imagine that a computer was something you kept forever. It would comfortably store your entire life: your writing, photos, blood tests, even your genome. Your computer would never show you ads, interrupt you against your wishes, or send your data to someone else without your permission.

Imagine a computer that was extremely valuable to you, that you’d pay thousands of dollars to recover, but you used less than the one you do today.